Five key questions for Purdue spring drills

There are some intriguing storylines as the Boilermakers enter the spring. Boiler Sports Report looks at the five most important questions ahead of Purdue's spring practice.

For many teams, it seems the football season just ended yesterday. At Purdue, it's a different story.

A 1-11 season was one to forget for the Boilermakers, who struggled mightily in Darrell Hazell's first season. The campaign came to a close with a brutal loss against the in-state rival Indiana Hoosiers, then the buildup for 2014 began.

Things have to get better for the Boilermakers. Frankly, they can't get much worse. A historically bad season is fresh on the players' and coaches' minds as they take the field for the first of 15 spring practices on Thursday. It's time for Purdue to begin its rebuilding process.

There are several key questions to be answered as the Boilermakers begin their preparations for the 2014 season. Boiler Sports Report takes a look at the five most important.

1.) Is Danny Etling the surefire starter?

Purdue has 99 problems, but quarterback isn't one. Sophomore Danny Etling has the experience under his belt, but that doesn't necessarily make him the starting quarterback. Could Austin Appleby or David Blough take the number one job? This is something Coach Hazell has to decide.

Appleby is a capable backup, but certainly has the abilities to become a starter. As for Blough, the would-be senior in high school is getting a quick start on his college experience by enrolling early in West Lafayette. The new freshman has plenty of potential to beat out Etling for the top spot. These are all things Hazell and his coaches have to factor in during the spring.

No sure answers will come before August, but the spring brings a start to a potentially interesting competition.

2.) What answers will come on the offensive line?

The number one greatest problem for Purdue last season was its offensive line. Fortunately, Hazell and his staff went out and corrected it. Now, the Boilermakers have plenty of depth at a replenished unit. So what will happen moving forward?

Without tackles Corey Clements, Bearooz Yacoobi and newly-added David Hedelin on campus, the starting five up front won't resemble its fall form. However, this is good news for Jason Tretter and J.J. Prince, two tackles on the outside looking in of the fall competition. Each will get the chance to jump into spring starting roles and impress the coaches.

Inside the tackles, Jordan Roos, Jason King and Robert Kugler are likely locked into starting roles. The spring will bring continuity for the two guards and center. This is very important for a unit challenged last fall.

3.) How will the defense fare?

There are high hopes for Gelen Robinson, JaWhaun Bentley, Brandon Roberts and other new Boilermakers. However, none of those incoming freshman will be on campus for spring drills. So which Purdue players will become a standout on defense?

The returns of Landon Feichter, Taylor Richards and Frankie Williams will bolster the otherwise-young secondary, but there are holes at linebacker and on the defensive line. First of all, Purdue must decide whether it's moving forward with a 3-4 front or reverting back to a 4-3. Ryan Russell anchors the front seven, while young players like Evan Panfil, Ra'Zahn Howard and Langston Newton will impress on the defensive line.

Purdue's linebacking core won't be settled until the fall, when Robinson, Bentley and more arrive on campus. During the spring, the Boilermakers must get their schemes settled and becoming forming a vision for a starting unit.

4.) Who fills depth at running back?

Do you remember the Boilermakers' running game last year? Neither does anyone else. Starter Akeem Hunt struggled behind an offensive line that was wildly inconsistent, while changing schemes caused for problems as a young offense looked to find its identity. Purdue does have some exciting weapons at tailback.

It's likely that Hunt will continue on in his starting role, but he could be pushed for carries. Sophomore Dayln Dawkins and bruising senior Brandon Cottom are great complements for the backfield, while Keyante Green and Raheen Mostert have potential to play quite a bit, too. Another intriguing name to watch is David Yancey, the redshirt freshman who showed flashes during his first year on campus.

Regardless of who's carrying the football, Purdue needs more production in its rushing game. The spring will bring a start toward that turnaround.

5.) What form will Purdue's offense take?

The rare midseason alteration to a West Coast offense was the best thing Purdue could've done amidst a rebuilding year. It offered Danny Etling a greater chance to succeed, and the Boilermakers' offense made great strides as the season progressed.

It's likely that offensive coordinator John Shoop's unit will continue on with its form from the end of the 2013 season—a pass-happy system that relied heavily on strong quarterback play, something Purdue received as the year progressed. Etling is likely to take the majority of reps, but it will be interesting to see how Appleby and Blough can challenge for the job in a complex system.

There are plenty of talented receivers in place, starting with names like DeAngelo Yancey, Danny Anthrop, Cameron Posey and Dan Monteroso, to name a few. The returns of tight ends Gabe Holmes and Justin Sinz are very important, too.

What's certain is that Purdue needs the complement of a rushing attack, as suggested above. A stronger offensive line will create more opportunities for a unit that saw great struggles last season. There is plenty of potential in an offense that's likely to be much improved.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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